Steve Hansen has empathy for the Pumas’ plight. Their ruthless travel schedule is not one he envies.
Flying across the globe has become the staple diet of professional sport but some are worse off than others.
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The tradeoff when Argentina added another ‘a’ to Sanzaar was the Jaguares and Pumas, effectively one in the same, would endure far more arduous long-haul travel than their counterparts.
With the south offering an olive branch the north was not so willing to, Argentina were hardly in a position to grumble.
Two years into the full schedule, and the impact of such taxing travel is clearly taking its toll, with the Pumas making seven changes this week, many of those injury-enforced.
All Blacks and Crusaders prop Joe Moody, in a refreshingly direct response, best articulated Argentina’s punishing demands. One of the quirks, or frustrations, with the Super Rugby draw as it stands is New Zealand teams play the Jaguares every two years.
Asked whether he missed the trip to Buenos Aires this season, Moody said: “Shit no.
“You definitely know about it in the first couple of days after arriving. You’re tired in the middle of the day as your body clock tries to adjust. It’s definitely taxing and it will be tough on them but you generally come right towards the back end of the week.”
In Argentina’s case, jetlag is second nature.
This year the Jaguares played eight home games but made two separate trips to South Africa – five weeks all told there – and finished with two games in Australia. They started the season winning four of their first five games, only to then fade badly.
Now they are doing it all again in the international season.
“They’re in a difficult situation,” Hansen said. “They’ve gone from being a team who was spread all round the world which has its ups about downs to a team who were brought into Super Rugby.
“Their closest away game is New Zealand which is about 15 hour’s flight time so it’s a horrific schedule they’ve got. That takes a lot out of them – I certainly wouldn’t want to be doing it but it is what it is for them.”
Argentina’s inclusion alongside the three southern hemisphere heavyweights was supposed to aid improvement. The Jaguares would largely mirror the Pumas, giving them ample time to forge combinations and cohesion, or so the theory went.
But the Pumas arrive in New Plymouth at a seemingly low ebb having lost their last seven tests; the past two home and away against the Springboks.
“Playing together all year round is it fresh for them? I don’t know,” Hansen said. “It’s not like our guys who are involved in five franchises. They come together as a nation and whilst we travel a lot, we don’t have that amount.”
While Super Rugby has undoubtedly seen Argentina develop new skills, their penchant for the offload and attacking from anywhere has, according to those who experience the dark arts on a regular basis, had an adverse impact on their former strengths.
Prior to the Jaguares, the Pumas’ vaunted scrum was renowned.
Now, that is not so true.
“In the past they have definitely set a pretty high benchmark,” Moody said. “In recent times they’ve been a little bit… touch and go. They’ve had some good scrums and then the next one they’ve got pumped so you’re not sure what to expect.”
After 24 attempts the Pumas are yet to beat the All Blacks. Despite all evidence suggesting that is highly unlikely to change on Saturday, Hansen is weary of complacency after what transpired in the first half against the Wallabies in Dunedin.
“They’re a good rugby team and if you don’t turn up 100 per cent ready to go then they are capable of causing you problems.”
Maybe so. But don’t be surprised to see the Pumas fatigue as this test wears on.
After that, another long flight home awaits.